Dunkirk was a defeat, but it didn’t stop the ultimate victory

Two new reports appeared today, and both were essentially negative about aspects of the school system in England. The Report by the charity Save the Children looked at the 2012 KS1 results, and concluded that the poorest pupils are less likely to have made good progress than their better-off peers. Almost a quarter (24%) of children eligible for free meals did not reach the expected level in Reading in 2012, compared with only 10% of children from better-off families.

Another Report from the OECD stated that young adults in England scored among the lowest results in the industrialised world in international literacy and numeracy tests. Now these 18-24 year olds started their education during the 1990s in the early days of the National Curriculum. From one perspective they were the group of pupils that started school during the transition from the ancient regime of post-war consensus to the new regime that followed the Education Reform Act, but their early schooling was before the focus on numeracy and literacy really took hold.

The outcomes for pupils on Free School Meals in the Save the Children Report uses much more up to date data, and shows how far we may still have to go in delivering our understanding of the notion of equality. There are many purposes of education, but one is to prove all pupils with the basic skills to thrive as adults. Reading and numeracy are two of these skills. Some pupils require more help to achieve these goals, and that is the recognised purpose of programmes such as the Pupil Premium. However, it is for individual schools to identify how each pupils’ needs can be met in order to allow them to attain the required standards to become functional readers and competent in their use of numbers.

The child with English as a second language is now widely recognised as requiring help. What of the child with irregular attendance habits whose parents or parent doesn’t bother to attend school events and avoids discussing their progress, perhaps because they themselves failed at school, and don’t want to admit that they cannot read. The extra resources must break this cycle to prevent the creation of another generation of adults who are functionally illiterate. As the Save the Children Report reminds us, if a child drops off the normal learning curve by age seven they are unlikely ever to recover to become effective learners despite the £50,000 or so the State will spend on their remaining education.

The recognition recently by the government that children in care need even more help with their education than other children is another sign that the Coalition is not just concerned with the well-off in society. A decade ago, when the TES ran their campaign about the need to improve schooling for this group, they were the castoffs of the education system with few to champion their needs. It is good to see that the turnaround that started under the last government has continued. Now every child should receive extra help with their education from the day that they enter care. However, this will only really work if the schools recognise the needs of these and other children the system has failed in the past. For that to bear fruit the research evidence of what works needs to be widely shared. This is not an area where schools should work in isolation. And in some schools and Ofsted inspectors it may require a fundamental change in attitude.

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